Since the new metro-rail (Namma Metro) routes opened up in Bengaluru a few weeks ago, there has been a controversy over the usage of Hindi on the Metro’s signboards. For more details about this issue, please see the links at the bottom of this post.
This controversy would have never taken place if the Central Government did not have an explicit programme and agenda to promote one Indian language, Hindi, at the expense of others. From what I can see, much of the argument against the use of Hindi on street signs and notices stems from this issue.
There is no logical reason why the Union Government (which is supposed to represent all states and union territories) should take it upon itself to promote Hindi over every other Indian language. This is especially so in states where Hindi is not widely spoken. Hindi is not the national language, and even if there were such a thing as a national language, there’s no reason why Hindi should be chosen over 21 other official languages (not to mention several unrecognised ones) in the Union.
If Hindi is to be used as a third language after Kannada and English, I would like to see a good rationale behind its use. From what I can gather, the most widely spoken languages in Bengaluru after Kannada are Tamil and Telugu. Is there a reason to prefer Hindi over these other languages in the city?
In short, the Central Government needs to either design a language promotion policy that takes all official languages into account (a tough task), or it needs to abandon promoting languages, leaving the responsibility to the state and sub-state governments. This current strand of promoting Hindi will only damage the Central Government’s credibility.
There are two more points I’d like to make. First, I personally find Hindi a useful third language and I would encourage people to learn it if they get the opportunity. There are huge parts of this country which open up with Hindi. However, this should be a personal choice and not mandated by government diktats. Given that I can’t speak Tamil or Telugu and can understand bits of Marathi, I’m all too aware of how equally useful other languages are as well.
Second, I’ve noticed some amount of ugliness starting to creep into this debate. Pro-Kannada movements have often had both progressive and regressive elements. While most people involved have been inclusive and encouraging, some of the more regressive voices are deeply disgusting. There are comments about bloodlines and ancestry, arguments that Hindi is “inferior” because of its links to Urdu and Persian, and of course, the old argument made by people all over the world – that we are somehow universally superior than others because of our identity.
There’s a lot to appreciate about the Kannada language, its history, and the Kannadiga identity. I encourage both Kannadigas and others in Karnataka to engage more with different facets of the language, the state, and its people. But I will refuse to consider myself superior to anybody because of it, and I encourage other Kannadigas to make the same refusal.